Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon for the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, 1/1/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Circumcision Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Circumcision of Our Lord, click here.
To be born under the Law must mean, in the first place, to be born under the curse. Though Jesus is without guilt and original sin, He is still under its curse. He eats bread by the sweat of His face, and He is returned to the earth upon death.
I suspect that to be born under the Law also means that Mary endured pain and danger in childbirth, since, going back to Genesis, that is part of the curse. It’s the essence of the cost of our rebellion, as that which was meant to be the greatest blessing becomes dangerous and painful. So it is that Jesus’ own birth on Christmas redeems childbirth, and foreshows the gift of Baptism.
But being born under the Law also means submitting to the Law’s many demands. The first of which, chronologically for men, was circumcision. Circumcision subjected the male child or adult to the conditions of the Law. It brought them into the covenant made with Abraham, which contains both duties and privileges. In it the Lord promised to be the God of the circumcised. He promised to hear and answer their prayers, accept their sacrifices, and forgive sins.
Circumcisions stands most parallel to Baptism. By now you know that the Baptism of Jesus did not make Him clean, but dirty. He bathed in our filth. When He stepped out of the Jordan, the scum stuck to Him. He was infected. That’s the great reversal. What is for us the forgiveness of sins is for Him the imputation of sins.
So it was with circumcision. What joined other people to God cut Jesus off from God. Being cut off allowed everyone else to be attached to His Father.
This is the theological principle: He is the Creator. His baptism makes Baptism. His circumcision makes circumcision.
We’re pretty comfortable with the fact that the Lord instituted these things, but the fact that they have the opposite effect on Him as they do us is more difficult. It shouldn’t be.
His death is our life, and our lives, sinful as they are, kill Him. The one, great exception to this is His resurrection. For His resurrection is for Him the coming together again of His body and His soul. That resurrection inaugurates our own coming resurrections. In His earthly ministry He denied Himself as a man, and so, He rises as man, and He is rewarded and elevated to the right hand of His Father as a man.
His resurrection and our resurrection are the same. But that is after He lays down His life, pays the ransom, and pronounces it is finished. Now we are joined to Him, and what is His is made ours.
For all the graceful good that circumcision was, it was a nasty piece of ceremony. Consider the near-death of Moses and his salvation at his wife, Zipphorah’s knife. This is in Exodus 4.
At a lodging place on the way the LORD met [Moses] and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touches Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:24-26
Why hadn’t Moses circumcised his son already? Because he wimped out. Because it wasn’t pleasant. And this happened on their way to Egypt! God had just told Moses that he would be the deliverer. Then this!
There’s no transition. No extra clues. No helpful bit of sub-plot. It’s just states as a matter of fact: “At a lodging place on the way the LORD sought to kill Moses.”
Zipporah knows why. Moses was too wimpy to circumcise his son, so she had to do it. That failure didn’t put the boy’s life or salvation in danger. It put Moses’ life and salvation in danger.
This needs to be said to parents who wildly delay the baptism of their children. Who say something like, “Surely, God isn’t going to damn my baby because I didn’t baptize him.” No, He isn’t; but He might damn you. You have a duty to perform. Baptize your children. This also shows us once again how mothers have to step in like Jael or Deborah, and do what needs to be done when the fathers fail in their duties.
What a terrible thing for Zipporah to have to do. But thanks be to God that she did it. How many of us learned to pray at our mother’s feet?
Joseph is stronger than Moses on this. Mary doesn’t have to do it. Still, it must’ve been a terrible thing to circumcise the Messiah.
It’s tough enough to circumcise a normal baby in a hospital, when you don’t even have to watch. What would it have been like to place God Himself under the Law and cut Him?
But Joseph is a man of great faith. He takes the supposed shame of Mary for his own. He accepts the word of Gabriel in a dream. He isn’t ashamed to run away from Herod if that’s what God needs him to do. But this might be his greatest courage: to take the knife and do his duty. God be praised.
Joseph seals the infant Jesus’ fate as surely as John’s baptism did. He is cut off from the Lord. He is placed under the Law’s condemnation. He sheds His first blood and is anointed to be the Savior of sinful men. His blood is our life. His condemnation is our salvation. His circumcision attaches us to His Father and not only brings in the little girls, but it completes and fulfills the Law of circumcision. There’s no more. It’s finished.
Now there is Baptism. And it’s as much superior to circumcision as the Lord’s Supper is to the Passover.
We can delight in and enjoy rich ceremony. But if we pine for the Levitical law and the glories of ancient Israel, we are like the Israelites eating manna and quail in the desert, but pining for the cucumbers and fleshpots in Egypt. The Lord has given us the greater things. Things which Prophets and kings longed to see.
Baptism is greater than circumcision. It isn’t just for boys. It isn’t bloody, and it doesn’t hurt a bit. But it is deadly.
It drowns the old man even as it raises up the new man, and it attaches us to God. See how it fulfills circumcision?
It places God’s name upon us. Baptism is Baptism because Jesus was baptized, because He was anointed for the sacrifice. As His circumcision ended and fulfilled circumcision and counted for us, so also, His baptism began Holy Baptism and counts for us. And since He was born under the Law, we are re-born above it.